Tillerson is out, replaced by CIA chief

Secretary of state was often at odds with President Trump on a variety of issues

By Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris in Washington
  • Published 14.03.18
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Rex Tillerson 

Washington: President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had ousted secretary of state Rex W. Tillerson and will replace him with Mike Pompeo, now the CIA director, ending the 14-month tenure of the nation's chief diplomat who repeatedly had found himself at odds with the White House on a variety of key foreign policy issues.

"We were not really thinking the same," Trump told reporters at the White House, explaining his decision to replace Tillerson. He added: "Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking."

Tillerson found out he had been fired before dawn, shortly after his flight returned from a week-long trip to Africa, said Steve Goldstein, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy. There was no indication during the five-nation visit that Tillerson's departure was imminent; Goldstein said on Tuesday morning that the secretary had been expected to remain in office for the foreseeable future.

The President did not personally call Tillerson, and Goldstein said he did not know how the chief diplomat learned he had been fired.

Trump announced his decision on Twitter.

The move caught even the White House staff by surprise. Just the day before, a White House spokesman berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Tillerson and the White House because of disparate comments on Russian responsibility for a poison attack in Britain.

Mike Pompeo

But on Tuesday morning, a senior administration official said that Trump decided now to replace Tillerson to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader he plans to meet by May. The President also wanted a new chief diplomat for various ongoing trade negotiations.

At the CIA, Pompeo will be replaced by the current deputy director, Gina Haspel, who will be the first woman to head the spy agency. Both she and Pompeo would need confirmation by the Senate to take the positions.

Tillerson has been out of favour with Trump for months but had resisted being pushed out. His distance from Trump's inner circle was clear last week when the President accepted an invitation to meet with Kim, to Tillerson's surprise.

Trump said Pompeo "has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernising our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community".

"I have got to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture," the President continued, in a written statement.

"He will continue our programme of restoring America's standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Pompeo, a former congressman, has become a favourite of Trump's, impressing the President with his engaging approach during morning intelligence briefings. But he also, at times, has been at odds with the President - including agreeing with a CIA assessment about Russia's interference in the 2016 elections.

In picking Haspel to succeed Pompeo at the CIA, Trump opted for continuity rather than bringing in an outsider. At one point last autumn, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the President's closest Republican allies on Capitol Hill, had been tentatively tapped as the front-runner to run the agency if Pompeo moved up, but the idea later faded.

New York Times News Service